Adventures in Genealogy: Letters

11 Jun

On June 8, 1864, Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the Republican party to seek a second term as president.  News spread across the country at a moderate pace, and by June 11, 1864, it reached the ears of the men of the 115th Ohio Infantry Regiment stationed at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Among them was my three-times great-grandfather, Edward Ellis.

Edward was born in Pennsylvania on April 5, 1835, to Thomas and Mary Ellis who emigrated to America from Wales. He married Elizabeth Ellen Evans, also from Wales, on April 12, 1855. I haven’t really been able to figure out how they ended up in Ohio, but Edward and Elizabeth lived in Summit County with their two children, Charles and Nettie, who is my two-times great-grandmother.

Edward was 30 when he enlisted in the Union Army (the 115th Ohio Infantry) on August 14, 1862; he was taken as a prisoner of war in December of 1864 and held at Andersonville prison camp. Miraculously, he survived Andersonville, but died in the explosion of the Sultana in 1865 on his way back home.  He wrote prolifically to his wife throughout his service during the Civil War, and I count myself very blessed to have copies of his correspondence that came to my family through our Ellis cousins. I’ve been working my way through his letters and transcribing them for the public record. It’s really heartbreaking to read some of his letters, particularly the ones he wrote just after being liberated from Andersonville. He was very eager to see his family again, but never got the chance.

Edward’s letters are all rather clincial; he gives reports rather than his opinions (other than his nearly-constant and understandable desire to see his wife and kids) most of the time, so the post-script of his June 11, 1864 letter caught my attention:

“Old Abe has been nominated to be our president for the next term, he is my choice and the choice of most of the soldiers, next to him would be Butler, the vice president is to be Andy Johnson of this state another good man, Hurrah for Lincoln and Johnson.”


Not sure he ever got that furlough — but I’m not done going through the over 400 pages of letters yet. So, to be continued…


Life Update: “Interesting occupations…”

10 Jun

“Interesting occupations are essential to happiness: indeed the whole art of being happy consists in the art of finding emploiment. I know none so interesting, and which croud upon us so much, as those of a domestic nature.” Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Martha

After looking at my calendar and realizing that I’m going to be out of town every weekend between now and the Fourth of July, I think Jefferson would approve. I have no earthly idea how I’ll get anything accomplished between now and July, but I’m confident that God will give me the time I need to do what needs doing. He’s surprising and good that way.

I am SO excited for this coming weekend because my best friend from high school is coming to visit and we’re driving down to Colonial Williamsburg for the weekend. She’s never been, and I’m suffering from withdrawl because the last time I was there was in April (my name is Dolly, and I have a problem).  I will surely be tweeting pictures and all sorts of nonsense, so make sure you give me a follow.

Of course, this will make blogging for the next month or so interesting, because I usually write on the weekends. And the weekend after next I’ll be back in Iowa for a visit with my family, and the weekend after THAT I’ll be in Gettysburg for the re-enactment.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Park Service is estimating a crowd of 200,000 for the festivities. To put this in perspective, Gettysburg as a town has not grown (like, at all) since 1863, and currently is home to about 7,620 people. So this will be fascinating on several levels.

All that to say, I will be updating — there may be days when I don’t make it, though, so I beg your indulgence. I have some varied content planned: some genealogy, some Civil War history, some more Very Revolutionary Road Trip posts, and of course updates from my travels. I’m also going to try and update the blogroll and links when I get a chance. Right now there are blogs I *read* linked there, but not much content related to my blog.

See y’all on the other side of this June madness.

Historical footnote of the day: On this day in 1692, the first Salem witch trial victim, Bridget Bishop, is hanged.

Today in 1776: “Certain resolutions concerning independency…”

7 Jun

On this day in 1776, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress gathered in Independence Hall (then, the Pennsylvania State House) and began deliberations on miscellaneous items related to the defense of America against the British. A Committee had just been established to investigate a matter related to gunpowder being manufactured at a mill in Frankford, PA, when Richard Henry Lee stood to be recognized.

Having been freed by the Virginia Assembly to do so, he proposed a resolution:

“… That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” 

The resolution would be debated and postponed off and on throughout the month of June. It came to a vote on July 2, 1776, and was approved by a vote of 12-0, with one abstention.


A Very Revolutionary Road Trip: Colonial Williamsburg, VA

6 Jun
The Capitol at Colonial Williamsburg.

The Capitol at Colonial Williamsburg.

It seems appropriate that, as most of the events I blogged about this week either happened in Williamsburg or were instigated in Virginia, I ought to recommend it as a stop on the Very Revolutionary Road Trip. … I would have included it anyway because if I was given the opportunity, I’d pack up and move there tomorrow because I am the nerdiest girl who ever lived… but that’s a story for another day.

Williamsburg, as I discussed earlier this week, became the capital of Virginia in the 1690’s after fire destroyed the Jamestown Statehouse for the third time.  It remained the capital until 1779 when Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislature moved to Richmond, which was considered a more defensible position (perhaps against the British, not so much).

It was in Williamsburg where the Virginia legislature instructed Richard Henry Lee to make a motion in the Continental Congress for independence from England. Williamsburg was where Thomas Jefferson learned law and liberty from George Wythe, where George Washington got his first lick at politics in the Virginia House of Burgesses, where Patrick Henry served as the first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia… I could go on for days. It’s importance cannot be understated.

Also not to be understated is the magnificence of the restoration of the historic area and the historical programs. Every day on Duke of Gloucester Street, you can walk into shops and government buildings as though you had walked through a door into the 18th century. In the afternoons, you can take part in the Revolutionary City program, which is a sort-of roving outdoor play that portrays the different experiences of early Americans during the War for Independence.

If you go, don’t miss any opportunity to see George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, and be sure to stop at Chowning’s Tavern at 9pm for 18th century tavern entertainment! Drinks, games, music, and other entertainment make for an excellent end to any day.

Visit their website for more details — but just take my word for it and go. I mean it. Now. Why are you still here?? Get in your car and start driving!

Today in 1779: Virginia gets a new capital

5 Jun

Today in 1779, Virginia’s house of delegates approves legislation to move the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, hoping that the more inland location will assist in a better defense against the invading British. … Alas, not really (see: yesterday).

Richmond was also home to Patrick Henry during some of his most boisterous years; he argued the Parson’s Cause case in Hanover Courthouse on Route 301, and he delivered his “give me liberty, or give me death!” speech at St. John’s Church.

The capital city of Virginia also served as the capital city of the Confederacy during the Civil War. You can still visit and tour the Museum and White House of the Confederacy today.

And while I’m on the subject of the Civil War, you know we’re in the sesquicentennial years, yes? At this moment 150 years ago, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army was invading the North, driving towards what was widely assumed to be a Confederate victory and ultimate end of the war. Wedged between the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and victory, was a little town in Pennsylvania named Gettysburg.

Today in 1781: Jefferson and the Virginia legislature flee from the British

4 Jun

As I mentioned on Saturday, 1781 wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s best year ever. He was in his first and only term as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and with the Commonwealth’s economy limping along and its best-performing militia employed elsewhere, Virginia was an open field for the British. The government of the Commonwealth had recently moved the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, hoping that a more inland location would make the capital more defensible. Alas, it was not to be.

A gent by the name of Benedict Arnold (ahemhem), who was in command of the British regulars sent to maraud along the James River, made its way to Richmond, and burned it to the ground. Separately, another detachment of British troops closed in on Charlottesville and Monticello. Governor Jefferson got wind of their coming just in the nick of time to saddle his horse and flee, a move which saved his life but haunted his political career for the rest of his life.(1)

Of course, it was 1781, and the British’s triumph would not last for long. In the following October, the Americans trapped Lord Cornwallis in a little town on the York River… But that’s a story for another day!

As a matter of interest, you can still tour Richmond’s Capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson (2).

(1) Ellis, Joseph J. (1997), American Sphinx. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
(2) OF COURSE IT WAS. I mean, what colonial-era building HASN’T been designed and/or blue-printed by Thomas Jefferson?!

This week: Adventures in Virginia

3 Jun

I had a rather productive weekend. … Well, at least as far as blogging is concerned, I should say. The pile of laundry languishing in the corner of my bedroom is mocking my use of the word “productive.”


I’m trying to get in the habit of updating more regularly to link my tweets with little essays, rather than just tweeting articles at random. We’ll see if I can manage it.

After examining my “this week in history” calendar, I decided to kick off my regular posts by declaring an unofficial Virginia History Week. Gird your loins.

The preview!

  • June 4, 1781: Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia General Assembly flee invading British forces.
  • June 5, 1779: Virginia’s capital moves from Williamsburg to Richmond.
  • June 7, 1776: Virginian member of the Continental Congress Richard Henry Lee moves for Independence.

Some of these events I discussed in brief on Saturday, which was the 234th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s election as Governor of Virginia. Also, keep a look-out for a post highlighting a stop along my Very Revolutionary Road Trip. I’m working out a Facebook page, too, as soon as I can get myself to focus long enough on any one thing.

Happy Monday!

Fun, not-Virginia-related-but-still-historical fact for today: On this day in 1800 President Adams becomes the first President to reside in Washington, D.C., in Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel where the present-day Supreme Court building sits.